Bronson Pinchot will forever be best known as the zany, loveable goofball immigrant from the hit ’80s sitcom Perfect Strangers, but he’s racked up an impressive résumé of character roles in film, stage, and television. A Yale graduate, Pinchot made his film debut in the 1983 cult classic Risky Business, and went on to appear in a slew of memorable ’80s films, including 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop, where he stole scenes from Eddie Murphy; 1984’s The Flamingo Kid; and Martin Scorsese’s brilliant 1985 dark comedy After Hours. But Perfect Strangers made Pinchot a household name. After the show ended, Pinchot popped up in 1993’s True Romance, 1994’s Beverly Hills Cop III, and 1996’s Courage Under Fire and The First Wives Club. In 2007, Pinchot played a snooty art critic who learns valuable life lessons in Mr. Art Critic, which has just been released on DVD.
Mr. Art Critic (2007)—“M.J. Clayton”
Bronson Pinchot: We shot it on this little island called Mackinac. You can’t drive a car there; everything is horse-drawn. It was enchanting, but between every shot, someone would have to run into the street with a broom and clean up the horse crap. Somebody said to me, “Do you want to go to a cute little island where there are no cars and make a movie?” I wouldn’t have imagined that horse-crap removal would be a full-time job on the film. But it reminded me of when I did First Wives’ Club in Astoria, New York. I love Astoria, because it’s got a lot of Greeks, and I love Greeks, and my manager Bernie Brillstein—who recently died—who was mildly dyslexic called me and said, “Would you like to make another movie in Astoria if I can get you good money?” And I said, “Yes, I love Greeks!” And he said, “You love Greeks? In Astoria?” And I said, “On breaks, it’s fun to go to the diners.” He booked me on this movie, which was called Out Of The Cold. And they sent me the ticket, and I called him back, and I said, “This is for Estonia.” He’d mixed it up with Astoria. No wonder he was confused I was mentioning Greeks! Everybody there is really nice. All the young people there are drunk all the time because there’s nothing else to do.
The A.V. Club: So there’s a lot of drunken horse riding?
BP: Well, everything there is so picturesque, you forget that the price of picturesque is boredom. A local journalist said, “What do you think of the island?” and I said, “Everybody’s so friendly. I don’t understand how you have any teeth, because there are like 44 fudge shops on Main Street, and everything is fudge, and I don’t know how people can subsist on only fudge.” But it was really fun. I would go to all the same restaurants all the time and get food, and you’d have these 25-year-olds who are like, “I was so wasted, dude,” because there’s nothing to do! I don’t know what you’d do if you lived there, but it was really fun. It’s a good lesson, because anything that looks “charming,” if you scratch the surface, there’s going to be fudge.
The Young And The Restless (2008)—“Patrick Dalton”
BP: I forgot I even did that. I don’t know how many episodes I did. My character was supposed to be launching this magazine, and there were several episodes previous to the launch, and one or two after the launch, and I remember thinking, “I don’t know what the character’s going to do after the magazine’s launched, because then he has no identity anymore.” There was so much booze around that it occurred to me, and I got the okay to do it, that basically when the party was launched, it revealed that he was a lush. I would just lean on things and be inappropriate, and that was really fun. So what the hell do you do? I decided that he would just be a drunk.
Because it was a fashion magazine and he was somebody that was supposed to be well versed in high fashion, I had a few run-ins with the fashion department. They would put on the rack like a regular blazer and a tie, and I said, “If he’s in the eye of the hurricane of fashion, a jacket won’t pass, give me something else.” They would get mad, and I was like “Well, let me go through the costume racks and pick something weird and make it up, because a jacket and tie won’t do it.” They were not too thrilled with me, but what I ended up doing was, I took an opera scarf which was about seven inches wide and tied it into a tie, which meant that the knot was about eight inches tall, and everyone said, “Oh, that’s weird and new.” And so that’s what I ended up doing. Soap operas are a world where rich people always have chandeliers and hip people have striped hair and the language that they use doesn’t have any flexibility anymore. But I enjoyed it. I got to do everything in one take, and the people on it were very neat, and they’re very self-aware.
Risky Business (1983)—“Barry”
BP: We didn’t know it was going to be a big hit. We thought Tom [Cruise] was the biggest bore on the face of the Earth. He had spent some formative time with Sean Penn—we were all very young at the time, Tom was 20, I was 23. Tom had picked up this knack of calling everyone by their character names, because that would probably make your performance better, and I don’t agree with that. I think that acting is acting, and the rest of the time, you should be you, but he called us all by our character names. He was tense and made constant, constant unrelated homophobic comments, like, “You want some ice cream, in case there are no gay people there?” I mean, his lingo was larded with the most… There was no basis for it. It was like, “It’s a nice day, I’m glad there are no gay people standing here.” Very, very strange.
Years and years later when people started to torment him with that, I used to think “God, that’s really fitting, because he tormented a lot of people as a 20-year-old.” He made such a big deal about it. Same thing with Eddie Murphy—I remember somebody calling and saying, “You’ll never guess who was just caught with a transvestite!” [Laughs.] And I remember thinking that seemed fitting, because there are certain people in showbiz who make it an agenda, every third sentence has to have something knocking that life choice, and you think, “What are you doing?” Like, these women came up to me in a restaurant—I was wearing a bright red shirt, and I was with some friends, and they said, “Would you like to join our club? We wear red.” What kind of choice is that? If you spent many years in the theater, and then you show up in movies, and people have on their to-do list for the day that they’re going to make a comment every third sentence, it strikes you as very strange. I just thought it was very funny that years later, that became his bugaboo. Which is a nice 1930s term I thought you’d enjoy.
AVC: Do you think he was just insecure? Or that he was young?
BP: I really don’t know. It is what it is; there’s nothing I can add to it. If someone’s 20 years old and every third line out of their mouth is anti-something specific, then draw your own conclusion. I thought it was very weird. Similarly, there’s a certain type of middle-aged woman that will tell you within 20 seconds of meeting you that she can’t find anyone to take her to bed. And that really strikes me as strange, too, like, “Why are you telling me that?” I don’t like any kind of conversational agenda; it makes me uncomfortable. I just think it’s weird. Unless you’re with your very best friends and you’re being silly. Then you can do whatever you want.
AVC: Did you have a sense that even though Tom Cruise was boring and unpleasant, he would be exciting onscreen?
BP: Oh, no. I thought the movie would disappear. It just goes to show you, I obviously don’t have the antennae for that. I didn’t see it at all, but neither did any of the actors. All of the actors who talked about him were like, “What is this guy all about?” And you know, honestly, I never got it, and I don’t get it to this day. But it was his breakout film. He always talked about himself like he was a mega-superstar; that was weird, too.
AVC: In order to achieve that level of success, you have to have a burning ambition.
BP: I guess so. It’s just a different kind of animal, like a racing greyhound versus a mutt that sits in your lap. I guess I’m a mutt that sits in your lap. I don’t know what that is, but I’ve seen it many times. I think Denzel Washington has it—he’s one of the most unpleasant human beings I’ve ever met in my life, but he’s this mega-superstar.
AVC: A year later, you were in a movie with another one of the biggest stars in the world—1984’s Bachelor Party.
BP: I was not in Bachelor Party.
AVC: The IMDB says you were. The Internet has lied to me!
BP: You talking about Tom Hanks? I do know Tom, I did a play with his wife [Rita Wilson], and he is the complete antidote to what I just said. He is a wonderful and genuine and lovely and down-to-earth person. I don’t know how he does that. I first met him when he was doing his spate of not-successful movies. There was a period in the ’80s when he did The Man With One Red Shoe and Joe Versus The Volcano and all those movies that weren’t doing well, and that’s when I first met him, and I would run into him on and off over the years. Then two years ago, I did a play with his wife, and there he was at his absolute height. He’s always been a delightful person, so it’s not really true that big stars need to be driven and repulsive, because he’s anything but.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)—“Serge”
BP: I almost didn’t do the movie, because my girlfriend and I had tickets to go to Florence, and they kept pushing the date back of when they were going to shoot it. Not having a crystal ball and not knowing what was going to happen with it, I said, “If you don’t shoot it before next Wednesday, I’m not doing it. We’ve got tickets to Florence, and I’m not not going to Florence.” I didn’t have any money, I was nobody, and I was just kidding around and having fun, and it came out, and people were following me around and shrieking and taking pictures, acting like I was a big deal. I didn’t have any concept of what the hell was going on. But basically, it was a couple of days, fooling around, having fun. I almost didn’t do it.
Beverly Hills Cop 3 (1995)—“Serge”
BP: That was a lifetime later. Beverly Hills Cop opened up a whole world. I got the television show and movies, and I would go sign autographs for one hour and get paid $25,000. I had bodyguards and police barricades, and I had that whole life from 1985 to about 1992, ’93. Eddie was going through his period at the time of doing movies that were not hits, and he was very low-spirited, low-energy. I said to him, “All anyone ever wants to know when they meet me is what you’re like.” And he said, “I bet they don’t ask that anymore.” And then when we did a scene, we were shooting, and he was so low-energy that John Landis sent him upstairs and said, “Just rest, Eddie, and I’ll do the scene with Bronson.” So whenever you see my face in the movie, I’m not really talking to Eddie, I’m talking to John Landis. And I can understand it—he was just having a bad stretch. And that stretch lasted… When did Dr. Dolittle come out? I think his funk really did last until then. I don’t know what started the funk, but it lasted a chunk of time, and that was in the belly of the funk, and he was just really sad and low-energy and I basically did the scene without him there.
AVC: Was that distracting for you?
BP: No, that stuff happens all the time in movies. Somebody needs to get their hair redone, or a camera angle makes it impossible to get the person on the spot, it’s not uncommon. They described it to me as, “It’s better to have a lively pair of eyes to talk to, as opposed to a person who doesn’t want to be there.”
AVC: Eddie Murphy reportedly said after Coming To America that John Landis had a better chance of working with Vic Morrow again than with him. Was there tension between the two?
BP: No, there wasn’t at all. John is a really sweet guy, he’s a mensch. It was just at the time, Eddie was really depressed, and that’s not unusual for actors. It’s very easy to get depressed and to lose your way, it really is. So John was very nurturing. And everyone in show business makes these sweeping, “I’ll never work with so-and-so again,” because that’s the way you feel at the moment. It’s a business where there really is no point in ever saying never. There are people I’ve sworn that I would never go near again, and then you see an interesting role that would put you opposite that person and you think, “Well, we’ll work together, maybe they were having a bad year.”
After Hours (1985)—“Lloyd”
AVC: In 1985, you were in one of my favorite movies of all time, After Hours.
BP: That’s one of your favorite movies? I forgot I was even in that movie! I’ll tell you my funny story about that movie—there had been an extra, a beautiful woman who was a background player on The Flamingo Kid who was just sensational, but more than that, she was one of the wittiest people I had ever met, sharp as a tack. So we shot that movie in ’83, and I had a crush on her, because she was so smart and fucking beautiful, and I love that combination. They don’t often happen together.
Then one day, I was standing at the elevator in my building in New York, and there she was, and we realized that we lived in the same building. So we had this big affair—we were both with different people—and I went to the Caribbean to make a movie, and I started seeing somebody else, and she went back to her boyfriend, and I never saw her again, until the day I showed up for work on After Hours. There she was as a background player, staring at me—not in a good way. She was staring at me in the “Why didn’t you leave your girlfriend for me?” way. And I was doing the scene, and they didn’t have a good budget, so Scorsese takes me aside and says, “I don’t know why you’re playing this character so nervously, but I don’t want you to have that quality.” I said, “Then you need to move that background player over there, because I hooked up with her last year, and she’s staring at me,” and he said “Oh, okay!”
AVC: So that’s your big memory of working with Martin Scorsese?
BP: Yeah! He was really desperate to get the shot, and he called me into this cubicle and said, “We don’t have a lot of time to do a lot of takes, I don’t like this quality. Why are you doing that?” Actually, what he said to me was, “You’ve got this naturally vulnerable quality, so anything you add on top of that is too much.” I said, “I’m not doing it on purpose!” But actually, that was an incredibly astute thing to say, and I’ve noticed it in other movies, especially when I’m in super close-up. I’ve remembered his words years later, because I thought, “If I’m supposed to play vulnerability and if I do zero, it comes across as very transparent.” So he of course was right.
Flamingo Kid (1984)—“Alfred Schultz”
BP: Yeah, that’s the movie where I met the extra. So here’s my story about that: Janet Jones was in it, and she was a model, and Matt [Dillon] was in it, and Matt was from the school of acting—and I was, too—where if all else fails, just talk to the other person. Forget about trying to get some complex thing about character going, just talk. The basic thing is, just make sure you are talking to the person and making the event happen. And Janet didn’t know the lingo of acting, so one day we were shooting in the van on the way back to New York, and she was crying, and I said “What’s wrong, Janet?” And she said [Adopts ditzy voice.] “Matt never talks to me, and when we were shooting those scenes, and the camera was rolling, he said, ‘Just talk to me,’ and I didn’t understand why he wanted to talk right then!” Bless her heart. I told her that in acting lingo, that just means to get real and talk to the person, it didn’t mean that he wanted to have a conversation.
AVC: Didn’t she go on to marry Wayne Gretzky?
BP: Yeah. Probably not a bad life! And she was a deeply sweet person. The thing people forget is that when someone comes from a non-acting world, they don’t deserve ridicule, they deserve help. Sometimes they flower and they know what to do, like Marilyn Monroe—she was the cheesecake girl that was thrust into it, and she had the brains to go to someone and say, “Get me in an acting class and show me what to do.”
Sara (1985)—“Dennis Kemper”
BP: That was a tough show, and I’ll tell you why. I had been offered that role, and then when we were shooting it, Beverly Hills Cop came out, and I was immensely hot all of a sudden. And there I was playing fourth banana in this TV show, and that didn’t go down too well, because when they would come to do stories about the show, they would focus on me, and that was awkward. It was the beginning of many awkward periods in my life where it’s like, “Look, I’m sorry—I didn’t tell them to come do a story on me, I can’t control it.” It was awkward, because it wasn’t in the right pecking order.
Number two, the interesting thing with that show was… There was going to be a black lawyer—because of course, don’t we all know that “black” is a character—there was going to be a chauvinist lawyer, there was going to be a gay lawyer, and then there was going to be the Mary Tyler Moore character that Geena Davis played. And at the time I auditioned for that show, I had so little money that someone had given me a gift basket for Christmas, and I would limit myself to two slices of the apple and a bite of cheese every day. That’s how poor I was. So I went in, and they were so afraid that nobody would want to do the gay lawyer that they didn’t even show us the script. It was 1984! So they said, “Well, we just want somebody likeable, and here’s your line, say this line,” and I do the line, and they gave me the part. Then I saw the script, and it was like, now he’s the gay lawyer. And I said, “Fine, I could care less!”
Then when we started to rehearse it, I would think of funny things to do, and I was like, “I want to be misting the plants, and I want to be doing this,” and they said, “No, no, no, no, you can’t do anything that’s like actually gay. We’ll give you one line a show that’s like, ‘I sleep with men.’” I was a kid, and it was an entirely different world, it was a world away from the world now, so there I am doing this job as a gay man on television, and I played a gay man in Beverly Hills Cop. So, every time I would go on a blind date or something, the first question would always be, “Why do you play gay roles?” And I would say, “It’s not like a sign I wear on my head that says that’s all I’ll do,” but they just happened to coincide, so that was a strange period in my life. There weren’t that many of that role out there. There was Billy Crystal in Soap, and then there was me. These organizations I had never heard of would come to me and say, “Would you host the gay and lesbian whatever?” and I was like, “Why? Because I’m playing this role?” And then it would be like wink, wink—it was very weird. I wish I had been 35 instead of 25—25’s young. You forget how young 25 is. If I were 35, I would have been like, “You bet I will! I’ll be there with bells on.” I mean, I’m on a list of famous people who are left-handed, because I wrote with my left hand on the show. I don’t go out of my way to tell people that I’m not left-handed—they think I am, and that’s a compliment, because then I made myself write left-handed, that’s who I decided he was, and it made sense to me, because I figured he was such a right-brained kind of guy. To this day, people swear that I have an accent. Do I have an accent?
BP: I don’t even fight them anymore! When someone says, “Oh my God, you have an accent,” I’m like, “Okay.” I don’t have one, but they think I do. I have these conversations sometimes where I’ll go into a truck stop and they’ll say, “Do you know who you look like? Bronson Pinchot.” And I say, “Well, I am Bronson Pinchot.” And the first thing they say, if I’m in a rural area, is “No you’re not!” That used to make me mad, but now I say, “Okay! You know best. And I’ll have the turkey with cheese.” When I was younger, for some reason that would freak me out—don’t tell me I’m not me! That was an interesting and weird time, but what had happened was, when I was released from Sara, which was a crappy show anyway and a crappy time, and everybody was staring at me and running up to me with things to sign—I didn’t understand that either, what the whole autographing thing was about. I ran away to a place where my mother had had some great times, which was Greece, and while I was there, I remember that somebody had asked me before Sara to consider doing a show about an immigrant, and I could do any accent I wanted. I was in Greece for a while, and I said, “Well, if I can make him sound Greek, I’ll do it.” And so the running away actually led to the next step, which was Perfect Strangers, which was my identity for quite a while.
Perfect Strangers (1986-1993)—“Balki Bartokomous”
BP: I discovered my inner physical comic there, because I felt that the writing was weak. I mean, I received my training in Shakespeare, Shaw, and Beckett, and all of a sudden I’m doing this stuff, like… What the hell is this about? Who cares? And so I put all my energy into coming up with physical business, and all of a sudden I was a physical comic, and that is exactly how it happened. I’d always admired physical comics, but I didn’t think there was that much going on. The character wasn’t stupid, but you’d look at the script and say, “What is this about?” So I made my own life up, and I had a lot of fun doing that with Mark Linn-Baker, because he loved all that stuff, too. It was a weird period in my life, because what I needed to do, what I had needed for years… I should have been able to go somewhere and get treated for some serious depression, based on the fact that I had some bad stuff happen when I was a kid, but I didn’t want to. And so I was actually quite depressed during Perfect Strangers, and the contrast between what I was playing and what I felt like was a bit much. And that was a hard time, actually.
AVC: There were 150 episodes—how did your feelings about the show progress as it went on?
BP: It’s really just like a relationship. At the start, you’re so in love and you can’t believe it, and then you settle down and it’s comfy, and then you start to get bored, and then you get resentful, and I think at the very end, it was pretty bad. Never ever between Mark and I. Our curve was that we started out bickering about everything because we were being territorial, and then we realized over the course of time that we very dearly did care about each other, and that we did dearly love each other, and that was interesting. We eventually had a deep bond. And then toward the end of the show, you know, just being really brittle… The girl that played my girlfriend came in one day and was in a snotty mood, and I stopped and said, “You can get a stand-in to rehearse her scenes, and she can come in later.” I regret that, but there was crap like that.
True Romance (1993)—“Elliot Blitzer”
BP: That was an exciting thing, because at that point in my life, no one had really ever heard me speak with my own voice. I remember the first couple of weeks, people would lean in and say, “Let’s hear him talk!” Which was kind of a compliment, but weird. If it had been a hit, it would have been the exact opening chapter of the second act of my career. It was an interesting role, it was a good character role in a dramatic movie. So it was a hugely important thing. And it was a fun, very exciting thing.
AVC: Was Quentin Tarantino a presence on the set?
BP: A little bit. And I’ll never forget one thing he said to me right after the dailies started to come out. There’s this scene where I’m driving with this prostitute, where I get coke in my face, and I’m doing this insane cackle of joy in the car as I drive, because I’m getting a blowjob, which was my idea, and Quentin said, “Thank you for putting that in the movie. That’s the sound that I wanted, and I was hoping to get that out of Christian [Slater], but it just popped out of you. That’s the sound I wanted in the movie, that’s the rhythm and the sound of it.” He was around, but not intrusively.
Courage Under Fire (1996)—“Bruno”
BP: That was a low point, because Denzel Washington was behind the incredibly cowardly bullshit of “This is my character, not me.” He was really abusive to me and everybody on that movie, and his official explanation was that his character didn’t like me, but it was a dreadful experience. I spent my salary on time with my shrink just for helping me get through it, and what that led to was the very next big movie that I did. I should have said to the producers, “You get that guy in line, or I’m out of here.” Life’s too short. But the next movie I did, the director was getting a lot of crap from his star, and he started to take it out on me one day, and just like a German shepherd—you know when a German shepherd stands up on its hind legs and puts its paws on your shoulders?
I put my hands on his shoulders and I very gently but firmly said, “I don’t do abuse, and if you say one more word of abuse to me, I’m on a plane, and you don’t have enough money to keep me here.” And that was the end of it, and I’ve never taken abuse again. And I wasn’t vile or anything, it just ripped out of me. Denzel Washington cured me forever of thinking that there is any amount of money or anything that could ever, ever make it okay to be abused. The script supervisor on that movie said it’s like watching somebody kick a puppy. He was so vile. And after that, I just would never endure it again.
The First Wives Club (1996)—“Duarto Feliz”
BP: Which is the movie I was just describing.
AVC: So Hugh Wilson would be the director in question?
BP: Yes, because Bette Midler was such a bitch to him. While he was directing, she would be rolling her eyes, pantomiming with her favorite actors, and she made it very difficult. And he was at his wit’s end. He was actually a very nice man, but she was very unkind to him on that movie. Am I not supposed to say these things? Because it is The Onion after all, the highest form of journalism. [Laughs.] I’m just kidding. One of the most freeing things about not being on a primetime sitcom that’s aimed at children is that you don’t have to edit so much. My God, back in the day, it was implicit that if you wanted to keep your job, you won’t say anything about anybody or tell the truth about anything. I did this Rolling Stone interview once, and the guy began the interview with a description of me talking about my ideal weekend, which was to fuck until the skin came off my dick. And I read that, and I think to myself, “You really needed not to be saying stuff like that.” But I was so desperate to express myself. I was so hemmed in by people saying, “Don’t show the hair on your chest.” It was weird, like I was hired in the ’30s.
AVC: If you’re repressed and repressed and repressed, then eventually you need an outlet.
BP: Yeah, at one point in my career, it was all hanging out. And now, I can say the truth of the matter is that some of these people are jerks, and some of these people are gods, and I don’t know why certain people are protected. Some people are so nasty. I don’t know why.
Step By Step (1997)—“Jean-Luc Rieupeyroux”
BP: They changed my hair a lot, because the guy was a beauty guru. I didn’t have much to do, so I worked out all the time—it was kind of a fun year. I made a lot of money and just did it. They were very nice people. It was just… I don’t know what it was. It was all the Perfect Strangers people saying, “Come and bail us out,” because the guy who played the surfer dude on the show had shown up with a gun, and they had to send him on his way for a year, and they needed somebody to be the goofy character, so they brought me for a year to be the goofy character. And then as usual, they didn’t quite know what to do with me, so I just kind of stood around.
You And I (2008)—“Tarrino”
BP: What’s You And I?
AVC: Let’s see, it might be called Finding t.A.T.u?
BP: Oh, yeah. That’s the different name, I think they’re still re-editing it—have you seen it?
AVC: No, I think they’ve been talking about it coming out for a long time, and I don’t know what the situation with that is.
BP: Well, the movie was basically done by the time I came on, but there was a reference in the script to a fashion photographer being incredibly abusive to Mischa Barton’s character and messing with her ego, which made her do self-destructive things. So they decided to actually show that person. So they brought me in, and the director said, “Do you like improvising? Basically, you have to reduce her to tears, and it has to be very personal, and it has to be about her body, because you’re the most powerful fashion photographer in the world, and you should decimate her.” So I said okay. There were all these beautiful models there, so I said, “Let me be sitting on one.” Like literally, like have me be straddling her and taking pictures of her so that it basically looks like I’m fucking using her for my pleasure.
So I took Mischa Barton aside and said, “Are you aware of this? What are you okay with? Give me an arena.” She said, “If you talk about my ass, it’ll make me cry.” So I did, and I wasn’t loving it—I don’t love that stuff—but she felt that it was important for me, so we did like 20 takes where I made comments about her ass, and then she cried, and then we all went home. It wasn’t my favorite day in filmmaking. I felt a little dirty, but that’s what was asked of me. She was a very sweet kid, actually. Rather brave in a way, because I asked her what she wanted me to do, and she said, “Talk about my hips and my ass, that’ll make me cry.” And it’s like, “Yikes. Well, at least I have it from the horse’s mouth.”